Last reviewed 7 May 2020

A consideration of the general requirements on planning work and implementing construction projects for small contractors.

Project requirements

The changes introduced by the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015) were aimed at simplifying requirements and making the regulations easier to understand. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also wanted to ensure that the regulations could be easier to understand for small businesses in particular. This is important in the construction sector specifically because it has a large number of small businesses operating.

A significant change from the previous (2007) CDM regulations was the new requirement that construction phase plans were required for all projects. In the 2007 regulations, a construction phase plan was only required for notifiable projects, defined as those which last longer than 30 working days and have more than 20 workers working simultaneously at any point in the project, or exceed 500 person days in total.

However, as construction projects are developed in phases — and the construction phase is only one of these, albeit an important one — this article contains an overview of how projects, large and small, should be developed and then considers the requirements for implementing smaller-scale ones.

Construction projects

CDM 2015 has some key elements that are established to try and ensure that construction projects are completed without risks to health and safety. These are the following.

  • Applying the general “principles of prevention” in the management of risks at the design and construction phases of a construction project.

  • Appointing the right competent people and organisations at the appropriate times of the project.

  • Ensuring that everyone associated with the project has the appropriate information, instruction, training and supervision so that they can undertake their tasks without health and safety risks to themselves and those affected by their work.

  • All duty holders need to co-operate and communicate with each other and co-ordinate their work so that no one’s health and safety is put at risk.

  • All workers involved in a project need to be consulted and engaged so that they can help develop effective measures to secure health, safety and welfare standards, and comply with them.

The aim of CDM 2015 is to have these principles applied to the appropriate phases of a construction project. Under CDM 2015, clients may be defined as domestic (ie clients for whom a construction project is carried out which is not done in connection with a business) or non-domestic (commercial).

Pre-construction phase

At this point, a client is required to appoint a principal designer if more than one contractor is likely to be involved in the project. Either the client or the principal designer will provide sufficient information to a contractor — in those cases where a project has one contractor — or the principal contractors where there is more than one, to allow them to develop a construction phase plan.

Notifiable projects under CDM 2015 are likely to be more complex and need detailed information in the pre-construction phase. However, for small, single contractor projects, the construction phase plan is likely to be based on the contractor’s existing knowledge and information supplied by the client.

In single contractor projects, a health and safety file is not required.

Construction phase plan

A construction phase plan is required for all construction projects.

CDM 2015 identifies the key elements in the construction phase plan and these are the following.

  1. A description of the project including key dates — eg starting date of project, anticipated start and finish times of different parts of the project — and details of the key members of the project eg the site manager, health and safety advisor.

  2. Arrangements for the management of the work:

    1. The health and safety aims for the project.

    2. The site rules.

    3. How co-operation between project teams and co-ordination of their activities is to be achieved, eg regular site meetings and briefing sessions.

    4. Arrangements for consulting and involving workers in maintaining and complying with health and safety standards.

    5. Site induction training.

    6. Fire and emergency procedures.

    7. The control of any specific risks — such as work near high voltage power lines, work involving the use of explosives, etc — which are identified in Schedule 3 of CDM 2015.

Even where only a single contractor is involved, they must draw up a construction phase plan — or have one drawn up on their behalf — before establishing the construction site. Where a domestic client is involved, the contractor will take on the duties of the client and be in charge of the project unless the client has specified otherwise. For example, they may have specified a designer, such as an architect to be in charge of the project.

The HSE have indicated that a plan does not have to be greatly detailed for small projects and needs to be proportional to the risks involved in the work. Hence, the plan may only have the key start and finishing dates, when services may need to be disconnected and when they will be reconnected and when stages in the project may be completed, such as foundations laid, etc. Also, the contractor will need to liaise with the client to identify where the services and isolation points are; any restrictions on access to the premises; and if there may be particular hazards such as asbestos present.

Contractors would have to identify how they would work together with others, such as tradespeople, who may be involved with different aspects of the project. All those on site would need to know who is in charge and what supervision will apply.

Clearly the contractor would need to identify any health and safety hazards on site, such as:

  • risk of falls from height if scaffolding is used

  • the need for safely supporting structures to prevent collapses (for example, serious failures have occurred when basements were being refurbished with insufficient support of the floors above)

  • preventing other more common causes of injuries such as slips and trips, musculoskeletal disorders.

Welfare facilities would also need to be established before work starts.

Health and safety file

The health and safety file is only required to be developed on notifiable projects. The objective is to have relevant information that will be useful in any subsequent work once a particular project has been completed. This is normally to protect the health and safety of those involved with maintenance, cleaning, refurbishment or demolition. Hence, existing health and safety files on a building may be used by a principal contractor or contractor to help develop a construction phase plan.

The client retains the health and safety file. The aim of the file is to ensure that anyone involved in future work on the building can identify the need to protect their health and safety from specific risks. Also, if the client sells or rents out the building, it means key information is handed to the new owners or occupiers to ensure they can protect those who may need to be involved with activities such as building maintenance, refurbishment, etc.


The client (notwithstanding the default position for domestic clients) retains overall responsibility for health and safety management under CDM 2015. If they do not appoint the statutory duty holders, then the duties will fall back upon them.

CDM 2015 makes explicit the need to prevent injuries and ill-health in the construction sector. While the HSE and the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) have provided greater guidance covering all duty holders in CDM 2015 (see the CITB website) it needs to be appreciated that the construction phase plan applies to all projects.

It is the client’s duty to ensure that everyone else carries out their duties, and they must not allow the construction phase to start before a construction phase plan has been prepared.